Inmate care lacking, report says
Problems persist in some lockups where state pays to house overflow population, medical receiver says.
SACRAMENTO — Although healthcare in California’s 34 state-owned prisons is improving, problems persist in some lockups where the state pays to house its overflow inmate population, according to medical receiver Clark Kelso.
“Little progress has been made in resolving, much less improving” the care provided to 4,200 inmates in seven such facilities, Kelso said in a report filed Monday with the three federal judges who oversee the state’s prison system.
Four of the seven prisons in Kern and San Bernardino counties are owned by the GEO Group; three are owned by small communities.
California also houses more than 8,000 inmates in private prisons outside the state. To save money, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to move them to the contract prisons within California, a move Kelso said could increase the problems with medical care at those facilities.
The worst problems were at GEO’s women’s prison in McFarland, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for Kelso. The prison holds 231 women who are within a year of release. The state pays GEO $9 million a year to house them.
According to Kelso’s report, inmates at the GEO prison went without a physician for a month. The report cites all seven contract prisons for a “lack of account- ability” and failure to employ qualified physicians to meet state requirements that doctors be available at least five days a week.
As a result, Kelso said, inmates with health problems have had to be returned to state-operated prisons for their care.
Medical care at the state’s own prisons continues to improve, Kelso’s report notes, and his office is preparing to return healthcare management to the state, one prison at a time. In April, the independent office of inspector general deemed inmate care at Folsom State Prison adequate, positioning it for final review by Kelso’s office and a return to state control.
The state corrections department provided a brief written response to Kelso’s report, saying the agency was “pleased” that the document noted overall progress. The statement said the agency is “working collaboratively” with Kelso’s office “to improve the delivery of care” in the contract prisons.
The GEO Group owns or manages 106 prisons in the United States and other countries, holding 85,000 inmates. It reported revenue of $427 million for the first three months of the year.
Medical staff at the McFarland prison referred calls to the Florida company’s corporate offices. A spokesman provided a written statement that the company’s prisons “have always strived to provide high-quality medical services consistent with strict contractual requirements and industryleading standards.”
The company will work with California to “ensure consistent delivery of quality medical services,” the statement said.
The state contract with the GEO Group requires the private prison operator to provide inmates with “essential healthcare services,” including medication and basic treatment for illnesses and injuries, as well as 24hour access to emergency medical and mental healthcare, daily access to nurses and a primary care provider available at least five days a week.
The contract allows the state to seek damages if the prison operator does not meet minimum healthcare staffing requirements.
The corrections department will not seek damages, said spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. Instead, she said, the agency is asking contract operators to increase the amount of time doctors and nurses are available, while revising training and auditing requirements.